Between the Menin Gate in Ypres and the Gravensteen in Ghent, there’s a range of memorable sites and locations in Belgium suitable for your historical travels. Below you’ll learn about fascinating locations such as the medieval fortress of Het Steen and the numerous memorials established in the wake of World War One.
Whether your interested in the medieval past or Belgium’s modern history, you can use our list of the best historic sites in Belgium to help plan or inspire your next journey.
Menin Gate is an impressive gateway in Ypres, Belguim which commemorates those British and Commonwealth soldiers who went missing in action in Belgium during World War One.
Ypres was a vital strategic point during the war and the site of fierce fighting, including three main battles together known as The Battle of Ypres. Hundreds of thousands of soldiers perished or went missing during this period and Menin Gate bears the names of 54,896 missing British and Commonwealth soldiers who died without graves.
Menin Gate is one of the most important First World War sites in Ypres and has a daily memorial ceremony at 8pm known as the Last Post Ceremony.
Waterloo was the site of the final battle of the Napoleonic Wars. The battle saw the French forces led by Napoleon Bonaparte clash with the coalition of British, Belgian, Dutch and German soldiers led by the Duke of Wellington and Prussian forces under the command of Gebhard Leberecht von Blücher.
The battle lasted eight hours and ended in the dramatic defeat of Napoleon. The battle was extremely close-run and much of it was a result of both timing and the communication. In fact, Wellington himself decried that it was “the nearest run thing you ever saw in your life”.
Today, Waterloo Battlefield is a popular tourist site and includes numerous monuments, the most famous of which is the Lion Mound. On offer at the site are audio guides, battlefield tours, films and even summertime recreations. Guided tours are available for added fees and range from one to three hours in length.
Het Steen, previously known as Antwerp Castle, is a Medieval Castle on the Scheldt river located in Antwerp, Beligum. Originally used to control access to the Scheldt River and protect against Viking raids, the site has been in use since at least the 9th or 10th centuries and is considered to be Antwerp’s oldest building.
Much of the castle complex was demolished in the 19th century, leaving little of the original structure surviving today. The most prominent element of the castle to survive is the picturesque entrance gate. In modern times, it served as the city’s maritime museum until 2010 and now the external fortifications can still be viewed from the street by the wider public.
The Trench of Death dates to the First World War and, as its name suggests, was amongst the most treacherous of trench systems and had areas of no man’s land as small as 50 metres wide. Well preserved and signposted, the site offers an insight into life on the front lines in the Great War.
The Church of Our Lady is a magnificent medieval church constructed over a period of at least two hundred years, starting in the 13th century. At a height of just over 400 feet it includes the second tallest brickwork tower in the world and is the tallest spire in Belgium.
Today, visitors can walk up the tight circular staircase for a remarkable view of the city centre square. Among the attractions within the church are the impressive 16th century tombs of Charles the Bold and his daughter, Mary of Burgundy.
There is also a white marble sculpture of the Madonna and Child, created by Michelangelo in approximately 1504. It is one of just a handful of Michelangelo’s sculptures to be found outside Italy.
The Gravensteen is a medieval castle in Ghent, East Flanders in Belgium, also known as the Castle of the Counts. The impressive structure is now a museum and major landmark.
The Gravensteen features a large central donjon and a permanent residence which was home to the Counts of Flanders between 1180 and 1353. It is surrounded by a defensive enclosure lined with overhanging, wall-mounted turrets, and a moat fed by the river Lys.
The fortress today owes part of its appearance to modern restoration projects. The Gravensteen was restored in line with architect Joseph de Waele’s romanticising Gothic style of restorations in the city of Ghent between 1893 and 1907. The castle is a major landmark in the centre of Ghent.
Langemark Cemetery in Flanders, Belgium, is the burial site of around 44,000 German soldiers who fought in the First World War. Many of the graves at Langemark Cemetery are mass graves.
Langemark was the site of one of the battles which together made up the Battle of Ypres between German and Allied forces. Ypres, today known as Iepers, was a vital strategic location for the Allies during the war.
The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917, also known as the Passchendaele Memorial Museum, is a Belgian museum dedicated to the Battle of Passchendaele. The battle was one of many which made up the Battle of Ypres and has become an iconic symbol of the futility of war.
The museum explores the events which led up to the battle, the experiences of the soldiers who fought in it and its consequences. The Memorial Museum Passchendaele 1917 uses a combination of multimedia presentations, reconstructions, photographs and original objects.
The Grand Place is the central square in Brussels and the city’s most important landmark. It is surrounded by the city’s Baroque guildhalls, Brussell’s Town Hall and the City Museum.
The Grand Place, known as the Grote Markt in Dutch, is considered one of the most beautiful squares in Europe. Originally an 11th century marketplace in the early city of Brussels, the Grand Place had become by the 14th century associated with the city’s merchants and tradesmen.
The Grand Place has been at the centre of Brussels for a millennium and has consequently been the location of a number of significant historic events, from the execution of Protestant martyrs by the Inquisition to the foundation of the Belgian Labour Party.
Passchendaele New British Cemetery is a World War One graveyard and memorial site in the town of Zonnebeke, Belgium near the battlefield of Passchendaele. The Battle of Passchendaele was a fierce conflict in the First World War and part of the Battle of Ypres.
Comprised of three levels and designed by Charles Holden, Passchendaele New British Cemetery was founded following the Armistice. It was populated by graves from both Passchendaele and Langemarck and today acts as the final resting place of 2,101 Allied soldiers, most of whom are unidentified.
Managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Passchendaele New British Cemetery also has numerous First World War memorials.